Adventure racing is an endurance sport which involves travel on foot (trekking or running), mountain bike and by water (canoe, kayak, raft, occasionally swimming).

What differentiates AR from other racing sports is the inclusion of wilderness navigation using a map, compass and common sense. There is no set race course; participants must find their own route from one checkpoint to the next. The checkpoints (CPs) are marked on maps which the racers receive shortly prior to or at the start of the race. AR also differs from other sports in that racers are part of a team of 2-4 people who travel together the entire time.

The races can last from several hours to many days and are unsupported, for the most part, which means that the racers carry what they will need (food, water, gear) in backpacks for the duration of the race.

To succeed, racers will need athletic endurance, navigation skills, mental toughness, good pre-race planning, strategic decision making as well as a strong and supportive "team" mentality.

Sound intimidating? While it's true that longer races can test even the toughest outdoor athletes, AR is a very open and inclusive sport. Beginning racers will feel welcome at nearly every event. Most races are organized so that anyone at any level of experience and fitness can participate. You can find a race near you on the calendar at the USARA website.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

GMARA Bitter Pill. 8/3/14, Richmond, VT

If you have not done a GMARA race, even if you don't consider yourself to be an adventure racer, you are really missing out on a great event by some nice folks who never fail to deliver a well-run adventure. This year's Bitter Pill was our 8th GMARA race in 5 years. This year, the race HQ was Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond, VT, just upslope from the Winooski River and downslope from a bunch of forested hills we would spend a lot of time trekking around in.

On race morning, a 3:30 alarm got us packed and allowed us time for a 4:00 Dunkin Donuts visit for some AM fuel. The race started at 5:00 with a creative little wrinkle - the race maps would be distributed at CP1. CP1 was a 4 foot illuminated orienteering flag visible from the starting line (the base of the ski slope) 300 feet up the hill. All the racers formed a trudging conga line up to the CP. I like last minute (or later in this case) map delivery; there's something a little more pure about navigating 100% on the clock.

Nervous energy at the starting line

Multi-team trudge up to CP1 (the big glowing square!)

Some quick nav and map folding got us promptly on the trail to CP2. Our compass bearing brought us straight to the knob where it looked like the CP was but we spent 10 minutes roaming the region without finding the CP, so we second-guessed our initial nav and started scouting out the area where everyone else seemed to be going, west of our initial shot. It was literally an hour more of this fruitless searching as dawn broke and the forest around us slowly emptied of teams. We were one of only a couple teams still looking for the CP, way behind already in the race. Ugh. Going into the race we knew we had a great shot to win our division unless we had a major screwup and here it was. We eventually figured it out after reassessing the map for the 20th time, finding it on the knob we had initially navigated to. We then ran off down the hill to CP3, then ran a mile on trail to TA1. Our failure at CP2 had ignited a sense of urgency which spurred us to maintain maximum speed while navigating as carefully as we could for the remainder of the race.

At TA1 we quickly grabbed a canoe and set off down the Winooski river to collect 2 CPs over an 8.5 mile paddle. No major issues here. A bald eagle passed overhead on the river. The paddle was followed by a 15 minute portage to TA2 at a nice local farm.

Coming in to TA2
We were greeted at the TA by a bunch of freshly cooked bacon and muffins - wow! We really appreciated that and took full advantage.

and homemade muffins!

After gorging on bacon from Vermont Smoke and Cure, prepared by Outdoor Gear Exchange (aren't sponsors great?) we quickly transitioned to bike mode. After a short paved ride, we climbed 250 ft on gravel, then a little level gravel, a CP and a tricky but scenic bikewhack through a large stream and shallow gorge with a waterfall to a singletrack bike-O section, where we would spend a couple hours gathering 11 CPs in any order we chose.

Nick leading the singletrack charge partway through the bike-O section
 We had pretty good nav and route choice through this moderately technical trail network before emerging back onto road for 3 miles. Next we had a gravel road climb which gradually degenerated to a rocky streambed-type thing, climbing about 400ft to grab the last CP of the bike leg (CP19). After a little technical descending, it was time to zoom downhill on gravel road, losing 800+ ft over about 4 miles and hitting 34 mph. we then had a level road ride of about 4 miles which we drilled in a team paceline to return to TA3 at Cochran's Ski Area.

At TA3, we learned that, through our efforts and solid naviation, we had risen to 3rd place overall and 1st in our division. We had been sporadically passing teams since the latter part of the paddle but had no idea things were going that well for us. The next and last leg of the race would be a hilly trek, mostly off-trail, to grab 6 CPs and up to 3 bonus CPs which were worth an hour of subtracted time each. 

Quick nav powwow at TA3, Cochran's Ski Area

We set off on the trek with a plan to definitely go for all the bonus CPs and travel in a roughly clockwise direction. Step 1 was to climb back up the ski slope and then another 600ft up to the first CP.

Rob, hilltop selfie.
We had an initial short problem with the first CP, but we had good navigation and a little luck and found all of the other CPs on the leg without any unnecessary delay. On this leg, if you went for the 3 bonuses, you basically had a big off-trail descent and/or climb between every CP. Our desire to maintain our advantage over the other teams in our division was strong motivation.

CP 21. Clue: "Maple syrup highway". Cochran's uses a large chunk of their land to collect maple sap, so there was a lot of tubing to work around in the woods. We got to take home a pint of their syrup each - thank you Cochrans!
We covered about 9 miles on this leg in a bit under 4 hours, eventually working our way back to Cochran's and the finish line.

We were the second team to arrive at the finish. Rev3/Mountain Khakis had also cleared the course but finished 1 hour 41 minutes before us in a display of utter dominance. We were happy to have won the male division, to be done and chat with the GMARA folks at race HQ, wash up a bit and relax.

The post-race festivities included some camaraderie and some really good food supplied by Bevo. The gear prizes were especially generous this year due in part to new title sponsor Outdoor Gear Exchange - thank you!

Thanks, as always, to the GMARA team for all they do to make these races happen and happen well - we love you. Thanks also to Jessica Cassotis for a post-race beer delivery!

Final stats:
Time: 10:03
Distance: 40.5 mi
Climb: 6212 ft.
GPS track (no GPS navigation in AR)

Most of the photos are courtesy of GMARA - thank you.

1 comment:

  1. A very wonderful photo blog where trail adventure focused. All the photos are nice and telling the steps of your adventure. Gears are very important parts of this kind of adventures. Gear trade platforms are the best places to buy or exchange outdoor gears.